7 Exercises at Your Desk

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Sept 27th, 2012)

Last week, was Part II in the ongoing Barriers to Exercise series where we discussed both Time and Energy as the stumbling blocks many people deal with when starting a new exercise routine. We talked about fitting exercise into your lifestyle and your existing daily routine so I would like to take this week to talk about some exercises that you can do at your desk or in the car (at a red light of course). This is not an exhaustive list but it will definitely be enough to get you started. There are many other sources of desk exercises out there. I encourage you to check them out and grow your routine as these get easier.

Rocking Bottom
The first exercise we’re going to learn will help work your core muscles which guard your low back and enable us to do more with our bodies. While sitting up straight, move your bum from side to side and front to back. The key to this exercise is to only move your pelvis and keep your ribcage and knees as still as possible. Initially start out with the side to side and front to back movements separate but as you get comfortable with this combine them into circular movements with your pelvis. Rock back and forth and side to side 10 times each to start.

Rocking Ankles
This next exercise will help to strengthen the ankles and calves which increase balance and stability. This is a great one to do at your desk because the little bit of neurological stimulation you will get will sooth that little voice in your head seeking distraction and help with focus and productivity. Sit comfortably with your back supported in your chair and place something soft on the floor under your feet like a pillow or rolled up towel or sweeter. This is best done in bare feet but can be performed with shoes on, except high-heels. Gently rock your feet slowly back and forth and side to side. The movement should be coming from your ankles and not your knees. 10 rocks each of front to back and side to side is a good place to start.

Pocket Pushes
Next we move to the shoulders. This exercise will help to relax those tight shoulders and strengthen the weak, under utilized muscles below the shoulder blades. Sit up straight in your chair and look straight forward. Pull your shoulder blades back and down as if trying to put them into the opposite side back pockets of your pants. Hold this position for three slow, deep breaths. Relax your shoulders for another three deep breaths then repeat this four times more. Once this becomes easier, do this while still typing, writing, or talking on the phone. This will challenge your muscles to hold your shoulder blades stable while you work.

Arm Circles
This exercise adds to the Pocket Push and helps to loosen up the shoulders and strengthen those same shoulder muscles from before. Sit with your back straight and shoulders pulled back like the Pocket Push. Raise your arms straight out to the side with your thumbs pointed up at the ceiling and your elbows straight. Draw 10 small circles in the air with your fingertips while keeping your arms straight and only moving from your shoulders. Repeat this making the circles in the other direction. Make sure you maintain the “in and down” position of the shoulder blades. Also make sure that you aren’t going to hit anyone else in the head when you do this. That would not go over well and may end your new exercise routine abruptly.

McKenzie Neck Extensions (Look-ups)
This next exercise also adds to the Pocket Push but this time includes the neck. It will aid in correcting poor posture and strengthening the important, small, under utilized muscles of the neck. Sit up straight with your shoulders pulled back like in the Pocket Push exercise. Tuck your head back as if there was a string pulling on the back point of your head towards the wall behind you. Holding your neck there, slowly turn your face towards the ceiling as far as you can go. Turn your face back towards the wall in front of you then slowly relax your neck and come back to your original position. Repeat this 5 times

Holding a squat
We’re heading back down to the legs for this next one. I have often talked about squats being a great exercise. They involve so many different muscles all working in conjunction, which so eloquently mimics real life rather than some activity you would never see outside of a gym. In the office, it would be a little ridiculous to start bobbing up and down in your cubicle but we can take it down a notch and work on endurance of these muscles rather than strength for a change. Push your chair back from your desk and place your feet firmly on the floor. I recommend doing this barefoot but shoes, except high heels, can be worn. Raise your bum up off the chair just to the point where you are no longer touching the seat. Keeping your shoulders and head up, keep working (and breathing) for 30 seconds then relax back into the chair again. Repeat this 5 times in a row and feel the burn. The key is to remember to keep you good squatting form while still working.

Short Arc Extensions
This next exercise will not work if you have a small desk with a back or someone sitting across from you but you can do them on a 30 second break now and then by moving your chair back from the desk a bit. Sit comfortably with your back well supported. Straighten one knee completely then bend it again about 5-10 degrees (the exact angle doesn’t matter). Straighten your leg again and repeat this 9 more times. Then do it with the other leg. This exercise will strengthen the muscles that stabilize you knees and keep them strong.

Remember that most of these exercises will be using and strengthening muscles that you are not used to using and are most likely weak. You will experience some soreness. This is normal and will decrease with time and experience but until then use a little heat on the sore muscles to help them relax again.

So I encourage you to take a few breaks in the day to stretch and do a few exercises and see the difference it will make. Remember that starting small is a great way to make exercise a part of your life and let it grow to a healthy and strong habit.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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